Can Android Tablets Find a Market?

A handful of Android-based tablets will be released over the next few months, offering bigger screens and a more immersive experience than smartphones and eschewing bulky QWERTY keyboards in favor of touchscreen navigation. But is the Android operating system enough to entice users to pony up a few hundred dollars for the gadgets?

Dell is rumored to be the next player to join the space at CES in Las Vegas early next year, introducing a device with a 5-inch screen targeted at UK users. If that’s true, the handset would join a rapidly increasing number of Android tablets such as Fusion Garage’s JooJoo, the Archos 5, Camangi’s WebStation and IDC’s Vega. While price points have yet to be announced for some of the gadgets, the Android tablets generally fall in the $250-$500 range. They’ll compete against the Courier, which is being developed by Microsoft , and a rumored Apple tablet said to resemble a larger iPod touch and carry a $1,000 price tag.

Sizes can vary dramatically between some of the new tablets, but many are more closely related to mobile Internet devices (MIDs) like the iPod touch than to the larger tablets of a few years ago. With the exception of the touch, though, MIDs have largely failed to gain traction due largely to high price points, a lack of overall functionality and the apparent unwillingness of consumers to carry a connected device in addition to a phone.

That may change, though, as VoIP and other technologies bring voice support to non-cellular mobile devices. As Kevin over at jkOnTheRun noted yesterday, Google Talk can be an effective replacement for cellular connectivity, allowing users to easily “call” others with minimal losses in call quality. If Google or another player can bring easy-to-use voice offerings to the new wave of Android tablets — and if Google would add support for the Android Market without forcing users to jump through hoops to access the storefront — the tablet/MID space might finally produce more than just one winner.

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